The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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HYDE PARK—The Department of Justice has been watching with care the latest developments in our unhappy South. Of course, the South does not know it is unhappy. In fact, it would deeply resent the implication, I am sure.

From the point of view of some of its citizens the South is fighting a righteous battle and deeply resentful that it is forced to fight it. It feels that there is more involved than just a question of segregation. The whole future of American states' rights and of the individual's freedom to do as he pleases hangs on what these particular Southerners feel they are fighting for.

Unfortunately, there are many among their friends and neighbors who realize that the trend of the times is against them, that the world has grown so small that it is no longer possible for any section to ignore completely what is going on in any other part of the world.

Colonialism is going out. People who want their freedom are fighting for and obtaining it, and then adjustments are made, and they may remain in a federation of states or become individual countries.

The trend in all parts of the world, however, is to do away with second-class people and second-class citizenship, and we are affected in our country by this same world trend. We would be shocked if anyone told us that the position of the Negro in this country seemed in other parts of the world to have some attributes of colonialism. Yet, this is actually the way great areas of the world look upon certain situations in both our North and South. These situations are only accentuated and much more evident in the Southern states.

We are extremely fortunate that our Negro leaders have worked under the spell of the Gandhian philosophy. Martin Luther King presses forward but he presses forward without the use of violence and with the constant hope that there will be love and understanding growing out of each new gain. Passive resistance is used to oppose what our colored citizens consider injustice and inequality, which they will no longer tolerate.

They are fighting for equal rights on every level. They have gifted people in the arts and some of the plays that are coming from colored playwrights and actors, such as "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry and this year on the New York stage the play written by actor Ossie Davis, "Purlie Victorious," are a part of the fight for equality.

This latter play is broad comedy, but it makes its point by laughing at segregation, not at the people involved in it. Mixed with the humor there is intelligent, incisive commentary on segregation, discrimination and the slow pace of integration. You can laugh at the usual cliches and wonder if they do not border on some of the things which our colored citizens protest against, but in the end you realize that they never really conceal the play's sincere plea to find solutions free of bitterness and bigotry.

If you have not seen "Purlie Victorious" I think it is well for you as an American citizen to see it and to ponder our racial problem, not as a question affecting our lives here in the United States but as a question affecting our standing and our real sincerity among the peoples of the world.

As citizens we can do a great deal, I think, to strengthen the attitude of the Justice Department. There are, of course, limitations to what the Justice Department is able to do. But it can use its powers to the utmost to meet the problems which exist and which have in some of our Southern states created situations in Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana which resemble the situation in South Africa.

At one time some 700 people were said to be in jail in southern Georgia. Nowhere as far as we know, except in South Africa, has anything comparable occurred. It is easy to say that this situation must be approached with patience, but that necessitates forgetting how much patience our colored citizens have had in the past. They feel the time has come for action and perhaps we had better recognize this, for real results in equality of opportunity and achievement are long overdue.

(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Hyde Park (Dutchess County, N.Y., United States) [ index ]
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, January 1, 1962

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.